A man cannot touch, stare, kiss or have relations with a woman he is not married with.

On the days when the laws of impurity do not apply, what exactly can a man do with his wife?

Assuming extra precaution is taken to avoid wasting the seed of the man, is everything else allowed?

  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/25603/…
    – Ani Yodea
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 1:23
  • 6
    This is definitely the most appropriate formulation of this question we've seen here on Mi Yodeya. I'm going to leave this open for now until others can comment.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 1:38
  • 6
    how about gemara havruta ?
    – eliavs
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 7:47
  • see :נדרים כ, starting ''אמר ר' יוחנן''
    – moses
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 14:37
  • "Everything else" is quite broad. Can you narrow this question in a way that it remains appropriate for this site?
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 18:43

3 Answers 3


"Seven days of impurity."

Actually it's more like 12-ish. The Torah states that if a woman experiences an unusual flow, she needs to wait for it to end, and then count seven clean days. For the last ~1600 years, we operate with the rule of thumb that we don't know what's called "usual" or "unusual", and thus it's duration of bleeding, or 5 days, whichever is more; followed by 7 clean days. AND then an IMMERSION IN A MIKVAH (ritual bath). Without the immersion she's still impure.

But to answer your question. The Talmud quotes a Rabbi Yochanan ben Dahavai -- "as holy as G-d's ministering angels" -- that if you look there, you'll die; if you kiss that, your children will be crippled, all sorts of awful stuff. The Talmud acknowledges this ascetic opinion, and then simply states: "but the majority of rabbis opine otherwise, and the law does not follow Rabbi Yochanan ben Dahavai."

At first glance, thus, everything would be permitted. Some later rabbis, however, read the conclusion as "everything -- means everything except for one or two things." Meanwhile, an ascetic tradition -- whose influences may have been Kabbalistic and/or Christian -- certainly influenced several major later codifiers of Jewish law. The Karo/Issreles code from the 1500s doesn't seem too thrilled with intimacy as anything other than a necessity, and proscribes several acts accordingly. (Though fascinatingly, their code addresses the subject twice -- once in the section relating to an individual and his personal ritual obligations, using very stern language; the other in the section on laws of marriage, and suddenly as there are now two people in the room, the language isn't nearly as harsh.)

Similarly, the Talmud speaks of a prohibition called "don't do gross things", for instance, while certain kinds of locusts are kosher (at least in theory) and they don't require ritual slaughter, you shouldn't swallow a live one as it's wiggling -- "don't do gross things." Certain rabbis applied this language to certain intimate acts, which raises the question of subjectivity and whose definition of "gross" if it wasn't already described by the Talmud.

Today, there are contemporary rabbis with opinions running the gamut from a very ascetic view to a very permissive one -- with similar discussion whether the more ascetic language of some texts was intended as law, custom, suggestion, or an appropriate act of piety for those on the right spiritual level.

Contemporary authority Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin sets out his opinion in Bnei Banim 4:16 (and the next few essays), for those who read rabbinic Hebrew. He has declined to publish his stance in English, however if you email someone at www.yoatzot.org, they will privately describe his ruling.

  • As someone who is unfamiliar with Rabbi Henkin, can you tell me what "flavor" or Orthodoxy he is part of?
    – Shraga
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 6:24
  • 3
    @Shraga he's a major Centrist Orthodox (or Center-Left, depending on your perspective) posek. The yoatzot halacha go to him for psak. He was an Israeli municipal rabbi for some time and is in good standing with the rabbanut, though considered on their left end. For instance, he maintains when the Gemara says it's a bad idea for women to lein, that means it's a bad idea; not that it's outdated and we're so much more enlightened and can get around it (left-wing), nor that there's an outright ban on it (right-wing). Fascinatingly his sefer has a haskama by far-right-winger R' Menashek Klein ztl.
    – Shalom
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 12:58
  • Where do you draw the line for what's considered "gross"?
    – Ani Yodea
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 22:37
  • 2
    @Shalom R Klein declined to give a haskama, actually.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 6:24
  • 1
    @DoubleAA hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=21282&st=&pgnum=5 okay he writes a letter blessing and encouraging Rabbi Henkin and his work. "I can't give it my official approbation as I haven't read the entire thing, and besides there are plenty of great rabbis in Israel to ask." That's a very common non-haskama haskama, which is what Rav Moshe Feinstein would usually give seforim. But you don't give one of those to someone you think is entirely out of line. (E.g. Rav Moshe wouldn't give any sort of letter to the all-electric-shaving-is-assur book.)
    – Shalom
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 11:40

As with many issues, there is a variety of opinions on this topic, ranging from generally permissive to strictly limited.

The Gemara (Nedarim 20b), and consequently the Rambam and Rama (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah 21:9; Rama, Even haEzer 25:2) explicitly permit just about anything, but recommend that one conduct himself with respect for the holiness of the act.

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 240, EH 25) expands on this idea of holiness, and regards cohabitation as something that should be done only because it is a mitzvah. As such, it and sources based on it (such as the Kitzur, 150), are far more strict, and prohibit various acts due to their apparent vulgar nature.

On the other hand, some rabbis are far more permissive. This includes Tosfos, who allow acts that even include "spilling of seed," as long as it's only done occasionally and with the right intentions. (Yevamot 34b, Sanhedrin 58b; Ri"d, Yevamot 12b).

Contemporary rabbis are also generally permissive, with reservations and limitations. (See R' Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Even Ha'Ezer 63). However, as with all such questions, for practical applications please consult your Rabbi or Yoetzet Halacha.

Example quotes from the aforementioned sources with translations:

Shulchan Aruch OC 240:1 ; EH 25:2

אם היה נשוי לא יהא רגיל ביותר עם אשתו אלא בעונה האמורה בתורה. ... ואף כשהוא מצוי אצלה לא יכוין להנאתו אלא כאדם שפורע חובו שהוא חייב בעונתה ולקיים מצות בוראו שיהיו לו בנים עוסקים בתורה ומקיימי מצות בישראל.

A married man should not have intercourse more often than prescribed in the Torah. ... His intentions should not be to satisfy his desires, but to fulfill the mitzvah to have children that will do good deeds...

Nedarim 20b

אבל אמרו חכמים אין הלכה כיוחנן בן דהבאי, אלא כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו עושה

Our Sages said: The halachah is not as R. Johanan b. Dahabai, but a man may do whatever he pleases with his wife [at intercourse] (Soncino Translation)

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah 21:9 (Translation Source)

אשתו של אדם, מותרת היא לו; לפיכך כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו, עושה--בועל בכל עת שירצה, ומנשק בכל אבר שירצה, ובא עליה בין כדרכה, בין שלא כדרכה, בין דרך אברים. ואף על פי כן, מידת חסידות שלא יקל אדם את ראשו לכך, ושיקדש עצמו בשעת תשמיש, כמו שביארנו בהלכות דעות; ולא יסור מדרך העולם ומנהגו, שאין דבר זה אלא כדי לפרות ולרבות.

A man's wife is permitted to him. Therefore a man may do whatever he desires with his wife. He may engage in relations whenever he desires, kiss any organ he desires, engage in usual or unusual intercourse or engage in physical intimacy without relations.

Nevertheless, it is pious conduct for a person not to act frivolously concerning such matters and to sanctify himself at the time of relations, as explained in Hilchot Deot. He should not depart from the ordinary pattern of the world. For this act was [given to us] solely for the sake of procreation.

Tosfos, Yevamot 34b

אמר ר"י דלא חשוב כמעשה ער ואונן אלא כשמתכוין להשחית זרע ורגיל לעשות כן תמיד אבל באקראי בעלמא ומתאוה לבא על אשתו שלא כדרכה שרי

It is permitted for one who to perform [unusual intercourse] with his wife on occasion, to satisfy his desires, for this is not like the act of Ar and Onan, who spilled their seed regularly with intent to destroy it

  • Just to note there are significant differences in the textual variants in the Rambam! Mechon Mamre uses the Yemenite text which is far more permissive than what appeared in the Ashkenazic world. Chabad splits the difference -- their translation is what you'd see in the Ashkenazic text (more constrained) but in the Hebrew they include the Yemenite version in brackets (more permissive). Which just goes to show how confusing this subject is -- some very different opinions can both claim to follow the Rambam because they had different Rambams!
    – Shalom
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 8:10
  • Regarding the “unusual intimacy” described… Is this saying that Ar and Onan would not have been spilling their seed had they not engaged in that specific type regularly, and only had occasionally?
    – Eak2449
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:46

Since none of the previous answers referred to this, The Sulchan Aruch clearly states that:

אסור להסתכל באותו מקום... וכל שכן הנושק שם שעובר בכל אלה, ועוד שעובר על בל תשקצו את נפשותיכם

Although the Rambam did not hold that way, most of the later Poskim agreed with the Sulchan Aruch, and thus, if the above is generally considered not permissible by the Halacha.

  • 4
    The Rama's glosses to the Shulchan Aruch also clearly state ומנשק בכל אבר שירצה. Were you intending this answer for Sefardim only? Why did you leave out half the story?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 19:51

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